The pen is a mighty weapon, according to the old saying.
To help kick off inauguration week in the spirit of activism, poets and authors all over the U.S. are performing at WRITERS RESIST events. You can read about the movement at PEN America. Writers Resist has its own website with a listing of readings across the nation.
I will be representing 100 Thousand Poets for Change at the Baltimore City Writers Resist reading. Information about the event is here.
After last week’s poetry exercise with a bit of Thoreau, I had a feeling that our President-Elect’s words would make some revealing poems. Yesterday, I posted a political poetry assignment on Facebook. Here it is:
I challenge everyone to create a cross-out or found poem out of Trump’s recent press conference. Here is a link to the transcript.
Please post your poem — text or picture — in the comments or at your own blog. Thanks to Amy Ludwig Vanderwater and Diane Mayr, who shared their poems on Facebook.
For my response, I was interested in the rhythm of Trump’s repetitious, overlapping phrases. I went through the transcript and highlighted sentences driven by “I.” Here is my own response to the prompt. Though these phrases lack context, I did not rewrite or re-order any of Trump’s words.
Trump Press Conference Found Poem
by Laura Shovan
I think we probably maybe won,
I do have to say that and I must say that.
I’ve just gone up a notch.
As to what I think of you?
OK, I guess you could say.
And I will say, I said,
that I will be the greatest.
And I mean that, I really –
I think you’ll be very impressed.
I tell this to people all the time,
and I told many people.
I have no dealings.
I have no deals that could happen.
And I have no loans.
I have very, very little debt.
I have assets. I have very little debt.
I have very low debt. But I have no loans.
And I thought that was important.
I certified that. So I have no deals.
I have no loans. And I have no dealings.
I just don’t want to.
Because I’m president.
I didn’t know about that, but it’s a nice thing.
I have something that others don’t have.
I understand they want a president
to run the country.
I would be able to do that if I wanted to.
I’d do a very good job.
I think it’s one of the reasons I got elected.
I think the people of this country
did not want to see what was happening.
I think it was disgraceful.
And I say that, I think it’s a disgrace
that information was false and fake.
I think they’re going to suffer the consequences.
I guess the advantage I have is
that I can speak.
And I think it’s very unfair.
I hate to say this, but I could not bring myself to read your poem, Laura – this man’s verbal vomit is just too hard to take in, even in your deftly recrafted hands. I’ll check out the sites you suggested, however, and march in NYC along with decent people all across the nation meeting to march and raise their voices against this abomination.
I wonder if that is part of his intent, Tara. To get us in the practice of not looking, of turning away, not only with distraction by through his use of inane language.
I didn’t realize that the FB poem was here too, Laura. It is a serious exercise really, and to examine those words so closely must have been a big challenge! It isn’t easy to read this as Tara shares, but read (and listen) we must to hear exactly what he is saying.
I posted it on FB first. Pulling his words apart and making something new with them is helping me to pay attention — just as you say — especially when I want to tune out.
Wow! What a powerful act of resistance. I am glad to learn of many actions around the country and will check out more of what is going on nearby in Indiana. If I am really brave, I may check out the transcript and try my hand at a poem from it, though I suspect it will be difficult.
Thank you, Kay. I’m heartened by all of the resistance efforts. The poet’s microscope helped me in this exercise. By not thinking about the big picture, the language came away from its intended content, and the narcissism in it was laid bare for me.
While I applaud your work, reading it was not a great way to start the day. I shy away from politics at the best of times and in 2016 stopped listening to the news on my commute and immersed myself in audiobooks. You craft Trump’s words into a revealing poem of repetition, arrogance and vacuousness. Frightening. I kept thinking how it would contrast with a poem constructed from President Obama’s words.
I understand, Molly. I take breaks from engaging with what’s going on. Once I start my day on the path of activism, it’s hard to think about anything else.
Laura, I am at the end of my Saturday morning quiet time catching up on PF posts. I had a hard time bringing myself to read this. In fact, I skimmed as fast as I could like a kid running up a dark staircase. It’s an important poem and the work of artists is vital now. It’s just that phew…..I shied away from taking those words in to me. Thank you for doing and sharing the work of resisting this person. I’m all in for that!
You really captured what the man cares about in your quotes. He cares about the shape and appearance of things rather than its meaning. Not just facts have been lost in today’s political rhetoric, but meaning’s been lost, too. I wonder at your other three commenters. Perhaps they have put their finger on the exact effect that Trump is going for. No one examines his words for meaning, and they just glance past them, taking away the sense of the man’s confidence in himself. Maybe that’s why so many people are attracted to his verbal stutterings. They don’t have to think about meanings, and they are simply given the gift of believing someone capable is in charge.
I applaud you for facing the world squarely, Laura. It’s our world, and we have to find a way to love it, and to be happy in it, while living fully. That’s what poets do.
Thank you for this. As others have said, it is bitter and jagged and hard to even put in my mouth, let alone swallow. But I admire you for looking that speech square in the eye and showing us what you found there. We must not be afraid to look, to speak, to speak out, to name the evil that betides us.
You’ve come up with some interesting challenges, Laura! In taking on this one, I also found myself thinking about ASL signers and simultaneous translators:
Pity Me, the Foreign Interpreter
Translation is a dance
where speakers’ words
are the music that
is re-expressed by
my fluent arms, hands,
legs, feet, and head.
If cacophony ensues
my dance devolves into
a befuddling display.
And what of the person
who needs to judge waltzes
but finds St. Vitus’s dance?
He has the dancer fired.
© Diane Mayr
The assignment you gave yourself reinforces my image of you as a poetic heroine who leads with her heart, unflinching. Keep your fire burning!
Thanks, Keri. I will keep your words in mind when I volunteer at Saturday’s Women’s March!
Your poem – and the exercise of creating a found poem – have captured my imagination, Laura! Methinks I need to get working on this…
I’m wondering if I’ll be able to stomach reading the inauguration speech. If so — more source material for poems of noticing and resistance.
Yes, there is a little revulsion, a little contempt, but mostly there is fascination in seeing your careful reduction of You-Know-Who’s language. True listening, true comprehension, is what’s missing from many people’s perception–and the emperor, in his fancy expensive invisible clothes, finds himself beautifully reflected in the eyes of others. He does none of this deliberately. He has not enough self-knowledge to see that he’s naked, and wiser, weaker cronies clothe him in compliments. Thank you, and I #resist along with you.
I know you do, friend. I agree. The cronyism of his cabinet picks is mind-boggling.
[…] I turned to poetry, printing out the text of the press conference and highlighting key phrases. The result was a found poem in Trump’s own words. […]